Girls.

I had a mother who loved me. Yes, mothers are supposed to love their kids, but mine–she took that supposition to next level heights. I grew up with an unwavering sense that the ground was firm below me and that I was capable of reaching great heights. She was strong and soft, brilliant and silly, fierce and kind.  Unapologetic and effusive in her love and belief in the potential of her daughters.

She told me I could be a doctor or a teacher or pilot. She told me I could write books or be an artist. 

She told me I could be a mom or could be a lawyer. I became both.

She never told me I could be the leader of the free world. Not that I remember. But even if she had, I would not have believed her.  This is a missive being thumb-typed as I listen to the Democratic National Convention so I don’t have time to cite the numerous studies that point to the importance of seeing is believing. But we all know it is.

Seeing is important.

You really have to see some things to believe. Gravity, God, Bigfoot, the tooth fairy…the list of big but largely invisible things people believe in is incredibly short. Lots of things are theoretically possible. But very few important things unseen are easy to believe.

A woman president was theoretically possible my whole 39 years and 9 months of life.  Tonight the theorem is one important and penultimate step closer to proved. 

When I heard the news of her official nomination driving home from work I started to cry. I felt like a door swung open and beyond it was everything. Every last bit of anything that was formerly impossible for me as a girl, for my girls in the future, was now every bit possible. 

My girls’ lives will be different than mine. This was a door that could not be opened by the love of a mother. Not by the belief of a mother in the potential of her girls, but by the belief of many in the potential of women and of one woman in particular.  

I’m with her for a lot of reasons, but tonight I’m simply relishing the breeze of that open door. And wishing my mother was here to feel it.

Next day.

By bedtime tonight all was right in his world. He told me he loved me and wished my patellas to feel better soon.  He chose one of his sisters to read his bedtime story, snuggled up with a dragon, a jaguar, and a pillow resembling his favorite food group: pizza, and he pronounced that the “next day is going to be hilarious.”

Time in his 4 year old brain exists pretty much solely on 3 planes. Last day, today, and next day. Past, present, future. 

It’s beautiful and simple. He moves swiftly past the past and present, and focuses largely on next day which is great. Great because I am the best parent ever in next day. 

Next day is where all of my best parenting intentions live.

Sometimes I live up to those intentions, and some days I don’t. 

Last day he ran away from home for the first time. Planting himself under an old pine tree across our driveway, he declared that plot of half grass, half pine needle land his new home, and said that he would survive there own his own. He’d had enough of me and his demanding, tattling sisters. He had no use for my rules. Ones like “don’t run over your sister on your bike” and “bicycles are not weapons” and “don’t ride your bike with your finger in your nose.”

Eventually though, he had use for dinner and hugs, and he came home. 

My best parenting intentions were fulfilled in this instance. I didn’t yell [this time] and freak out about his defiance–I let him run, let him figure it out on his own, and let him come home to a hug that said he’s always got a place in my arms no matter what. 

Today though, I screwed up. Today was the day that his preschool class read the books they “wrote” to an audience of parents. That audience did not include his parents. We didn’t know it was happening today or forgot. The why doesn’t matter so much in last day or today. We simply weren’t there. 

Tonight at dinner he told me that he “melted because [we] weren’t there.” I held his melty face in my hands and told him we made arrangements to be there tomorrow. We’d see him read his book tomorrow. 

But “melting” was an insufficient description for him. He went on. 

Mama, you know how da seats in da minivan are squishering seats? How you pull da button and da seat pushed down? Folded down? Dat’s how I was feeling in my inside brain. Folded down. 

Ugh. Just ugh.

I’m going to fix this next day.

I’ll do my best. And I’ll know that if it isn’t completely fixed, I still have the next day to try again.  

Us, in a shiny happy moment last day.

Genetics.

When my oldest daughter feeds her siblings or dolls, she extends the spoon toward the intended recipient and then opens her own mouth. It’s a reflex. She doesn’t even know that it’s happening. She models the expected behavior to the person/object being fed, the necessary first step to eat.  It’s a sweet, unconscious reflection of her nurturing nature.  It’s also a sweet reflection of her father.

I first noted this particular quirk when he would feed her as a baby.  And then I noticed that his own mother did the same thing when she would feed our children.  Sweet, sweet genetics. Learned behavior, perhaps, too–but if it weren’t for genetics the other two mini persons in our family would be opening their mouths when feeding others.  And they don’t.  I’ve checked.

There are other less, and some more, obvious traits that are traceable through the branches of our little tree.  The shape of my middle daughter’s eyes, they are the exact same shape as my grandfather’s.  

The way my son crinkles his nose when his smile passes the threshold between I’m happy and Holy shit, it’s amazing to be alive.  I do the same, as did my mom.  

It is incontrovertible evidence of the power of evolution and science. Evidence that we are each a unique compilation of the As and Gs, Cs and Ts of those who came before us.  Evidence that there are some things we can’t fight.

My middle daughter’s Kindergarten class is headed to the Lincoln Park Zoo for a field trip tomorrow. She must’ve asked me about tomorrow’s weather 20 times tonight. I told her it would probably rain but not to worry, she’d still be going to the zoo. 

She can’t wait for the zoo. She loves the zoo. She would spend every day at the zoo if she could. This zoo is her zoo. She knows every inch of it and has memorized the most inane of facts about its animals. Not simply species facts, but actual, individual animal facts. Family histories, favorite foods and preferred places to be scratched.

She can’t wait to demonstrate her expertise. And that desire, it’s genetic. Both her father and I are know-it-alls. 

After I assured her that despite the forecast for rain she’d still be heading to the zoo, she shook her head and said, “That’s not the problem. I was really hoping for something I’ve wanted for a super long time.”

“What, then?” I asked. 

“If it’s raining Caruso won’t be swinging outside and I was hoping that it would finally be nice enough weather for Caruso to…you know…do his thing.”

Then she burst out in giggles.

Caruso is a gibbon. A resident of the primate house who likes to swing inside the outdoor portion of his enclosure and piss on unwitting passersby. 

It’s hilarious if you like that kind of thing.  And in our family, whether due to nature or nurture, we do.  Maybe we got it from that thirty-thousandth cousin a couple times removed we share with Caruso. 

Here is video from Caruso’s birthday party last year. The dude is a legend. 

my monkeys at the zoo on day too cold for caruso

I hate sandwiches.

This afternoon I slipped on a mayo-slicked slice of tomato. A remnant of an abandoned sandwich in the middle of the sidewalk downtown.

I fell hard.

I got up. I walked. Then stopped when I realized that I couldn’t really walk. Then a friend stood next to me while I oddly answered work emails instead of addressing the fact that I was on a busy sidewalk with an effed up leg and pants covered in old sandwich schmear.

Then he helped me get in a cab–which took forever because I couldn’t walk and was swinging between laughter and pain-induced tears faster than I usually say “no” to sandwiches. 

I have always hated sandwiches. Clearly, with good reason. 

I’ve had some time this afternoon to reflect. Time is a gift given to you in emergency rooms, if you’re lucky enough not to be mortally wounded. 

Upon painful reflection, I have three main problems: (1) despite a recent change in job I am no less of a freak who hides from life in her work than I was 3 weeks ago; (2) my patella is cracked completely in half; and (3) I should really shave my legs more often. 

Thank goodness I’ve got a bunch of ready and able pint-size nurses waiting on me tonight. The perfect solution for problem no. 1. The other two  problems I leave to a higher power. Like an ortho surgeon who dabbles in laser hair removal.


No time to spare.

We herded three kids under 8 off the C train at 81st and headed toward the museum. The line was around the block, hundreds of rain soaked tourists and Spring Breakers, like us, at a standstill. We couldn’t wait. 

Our NYC day had been carefully planned. Natural History then lunch at Serendipity, followed by Battery Park and a cruise to Lady Liberty. Then back up to a Times Square much more kid-appropriate than the one of my youth, and dinner before crashing in a hotel room illuminated by the lights of Broadway. There was no room on the agenda for standing idle in the rain. No room at all.

Across the street Central Park beckoned. Not on the agenda, but it was a mere 2 mile stroller-less walk to Frrrozen Hot Chocolate bliss through the park. Why not?

We ran. Up and down rocks and trails and around the pond. We chased pigeons through puddles despite parental admonitions concerning wet socks and much more walking/running to come. We chased more pigeons and then had to stop.

The boy was sobbing. His feet were squishy, he was cold. His 4 year old face was covered in tears and rain and unsanitary park puddle water. 

We stood him on a bench and removed his shoes, then peeled his socks from his feet. As we wrung out his–carefully chosen in homage to our first intended destination–dinosaur socks he was still crying and now yelling, “There’s no time to spare…no time to spare!”

Like an end-of-days evangelist shouting on a street corner, he was expressing exactly what I was feeling, there is absolutely no time to spare. 

There was and is so much to do, and the most important of those things was precisely what we were doing. Not the pigeons and forced march through the rain, exactly, but the time spent with just the 5 of us. Time together not racing to or from activities or squeezed between work commitments. Real, uninterrupted, loud, messy, and sweet time. There is just so little, too little of that time.

We put the less-wet but still soggy socks back on his feet and headed off to pet horses waiting for carriage riders, chase more pigeons, climb more rocks, and continue on in our now less-scheduled day. 

We hit some of our agenda but mostly we roamed. We clocked a ridiculous amount of steps and a glorious amount of time together.  We laughed and hugged, and irritated city dwellers with our sidewalk stops to wonder at the sights around us. We took turns carrying exhausted kids on our backs, and my husband and I made a new plan. 

Our new plan is to stop. Stop ourselves and each other in those moments of parental and professional overwhelming stress–those times when we can’t see the forest of our beautiful family and life together through the trees. We will stop and remember that there is no time to spare.  At least we plan to try. 

  

Save the Pandas.

I texted the dog walker today to ask if he could take our pup home with him for a weekend over Spring break. He responded that my 8 year old daughter had already confirmed the arrangements…a month ago. 

She is amazing. So on top of her world, and ours. So concerned about the order of things and the wellbeing of all those things and people. So believing in her own ability to make a difference and set things right. 

Last night she asked that I make copies of a flyer she’s drafted. She wants people to know what they can do to protect giant (and red) pandas. She believes that people only need the right information to make the right choice. 

Mama, if they know what to do then they will do it.

If only it was that simple. 

I knew a month ago that I needed to find a home for the dog for the weekend. But it took me until now, the very last minute, to act. 

She wants to talk about who’s running for President and she tells me about the things she hears on the news and on the playground. She’s heard things that scare her. She’s heard things that run contrary to all she’s been told about what’s right and how people, all people, should be treated.  

I’m worried.

I’m worried about her apparent belief that she needs to take care of things like the dog’s vacation accommodations. I’m worried that a part of her already understands that adults–including her father and me–don’t always take care of things, at least not with the urgency that she believes is needed. I’m worried about the possibility that we adults could elect a President who shits all over the values she holds. I’m worried that she’ll distribute her flyers only to learn that most people will not care about the pandas.

On the other hand, her trust that people will eventually do the right thing when provided the right information is evidence that all hope, all faith in the decency of people, is not lost. 

And my eventual efforts to find a weekend home for the dog are a good sign too. I can tell her that I talked with the dog walker today and thank her for being so on top of it. I will assure her that we are on top of it all too and that she doesn’t need to worry. I will give her the copies I made of her flyer and she’ll have them to distribute tomorrow. And I will dish out some ice cream and we’ll dance to Miley Cyrus’s joyous ode to America, Party in the USA, because that’s the best way I know to ensure that the day ends on a high note. 

I won’t be a chisel to the edifice of her faith in mankind…and her parents. At least not today. 

  
 

Farewell fish.

The lifespan of genetically modified fluorescent fish (as reported by their evil genius creators) is about a year. Today, Bjorkland, Front End Loader II, and Glow-ey left this mortal world, defying the odds and living well beyond what was expected.

They left together, like those stories of sweet old couples who take their last breaths within minutes of each other, except they were a threesome. 

Rest in GMO day-glow polyamorous peace you much-loved weirdos.
Thankfully, the kids all seem okay. Just a few minutes of circle of life talk followed by the almost 8 year old fact-checking my lifespan claims via Google, and they were off and interested in other things.  Mostly though I suspect that they think the loss of the fish paves the way for a pet caracal. Dream on, my sweet little wannabe zookeepers.  Dream on.

  

Her success is not your failure.

I work in a job where my time devoted to clients is accounted for in 6 minute increments.  I used to think 6 minutes was nothing.  I took 6 minutes, at least, to decide what to wear in the morning.  Not anymore.  I am a parent of three kids, I am a wife, I work long hours outside the home. I am a daughter, sister and friend. I like trashy television and unbelievable spy novels. I have a dog whose favorite food group is underwear (thankfully after it’s been removed from the body).

6 minutes is a lifetime. In 6 minutes I can rescue a favorite pair of dinosaur-patterned briefs, pack 2 school lunches, apply one band-aid to a non-existent boo boo, and register a kid for softball.

Still, I’ve been feeling a lot lately like I am sucking at all of it.  Like the imposing weight of all my hats is crushing my neck, forcing me to stare constantly down at my scuffed-up shoes. The weight is imposing, but none of the hats can fall. They are all too important and it’s impossible to wear only one at a time.  Where would I store them?

Mid-conference call I have to field an email from the school nurse about a mysterious “fainty” feeling one of the girls is experiencing.  While cooking dinner I need to stir with one hand while answering a text from a client with the other.  While reading one of those cold war era spy novels at midnight I remember the call I was supposed to make to a friend so dear she’s (fingers crossed) forgiven me for not calling in months.  While helping with one’s math homework I have to answer questions from the other two about heaven and angels, and how angels are different than ghosts and the tooth fairy, what happened on September 11th, and why the dog likes to eat underwear.

But I’m doing it.  I’m doing it all with all those hats piled sky-high on my ever more gray hair.  I’m doing it, and watching amazing women (and men) all around me do it like rock stars. 

Some of them are having total Beyoncé moments in front me. They are killing it. Glittering with shiny success, and sometimes causing my intestines to cramp with jealousy.  

But then I remember that their success is not my failure. And I remember that I ate that awful wrap sandwich for lunch, and that the cramps are likely the result of said oddly colored tortilla and its contents. Was it chicken or tuna? Who the fuck knows. Either way, their success should not cause me to feel sick. 

Their success is to be celebrated. Some days you’re Beyoncé. Some days you’re the friend aiming the fan that makes her hair blow just right.  

Today, I’m both. I’m heading out to celebrate the success of a whole band of Beyoncés, including me.  We’re going to spend a lot longer than 6 minutes applauding each other. And I will not be eating a wrap sandwich. 

  

 

Christmas Crisis

The absurdity hit them before it hit me.

We’re going to EAT them?! But we just made them!

This just seems wrong.

Will the legs grow back like a sea star’s?

They ate them anyway.  What kid can resist cookie covered with frosting and gummy bears?

But the strangeness of it all.  The gleeful consumption of a gingerbread leg or arm got me thinking about the way in which we consume each other, all the time.  We nibble away at hearts, and some times take large bites.  The cruelty of our words and actions is undeniable.  We should feel remorse, but often it’s the opposite.  The celebration of those who take the most ferocious bites, those who stand before cheering audiences sticky with hatred and fear, it is absolutely absurd and downright frightening.

On playgrounds, the bites are small.  Small bits of ego mashed between tiny teeth.  

My 7 year old reported to us a couple months ago that two other girls had commanded that she could not be their friend, could not play with them at recess, unless my girl did “a flip” from the high bar.  She told us about it at bedtime, about how nervous she was to do the flip.  That she had been practicing from the lower bar and thought that she could do it, but she was scared that she’d fail. She was scared that she could be hurt.  My husband and I were dumbfounded.  She was being bullied.  But she didn’t see it that way, she saw it as a test.

We told her that it was test that she could absolutely refuse.  She did not need to play with those girls. She had lots of other friends to play with.  But she said that she wanted these friends, wanted to try the flip.  She said she would do it tomorrow.  

We told her it was her choice, but that she should know that she did not have to do anything that she was scared to do–that she did not have to do anything to prove herself worthy of anyone’s friendship, or attention.  She nodded, and said, “I know.” But then told us that tomorrow was the day.  She felt ready and knew she could do it.

What were we to say? She was focused on the question of her own ability, the physical challenge.  She was not focused on the origin of the test, only whether she had it in her to pass it.  I was proud of her of confidence and bravery, but worried.  Worried that she would be the kind of person who would succumb to bullies.  That this was the beginning of her losing pieces of herself to the cruelty of others.  

I had nightmares that night that are too absurd to repeat here, but I’ll say that they involved a confluence of the mid-90’s style mosh pits (I’m pretty sure it was Lollapalooza in NYC, but my memory–ahem, my dream, was a bit hazy), my children,  a dinner party where the hostess kept sneezing all over the food she was serving, and the cast of 90210 (not all at the same time…that’d be crazy). 

All the following day, my husband and I waited for a call from the school to report that our girl had been transported to the hospital with a broken arm, or worse.  But the call never came.  That night at dinner, we asked how the day went.  We asked her what happened at recess.  She looked at us, fork full of spaghetti hanging in midair, and shrugged.  

“Oh, the flip?…yeah, I didn’t try it.”

That was it.  She didn’t offer any further explanation and we didn’t press. 

In the weeks since, the names of the other girls have been frequently mentioned in re-tellings of classroom events.  They do not seem to have followed through on their threatened denial of friendship.  Maybe they’ve moved on to other targets.  Maybe they’re not bullies at all, just budding life coaches who were attempting to motivate my girl to try something she was afraid to do.  I’m sure that’s how 90210’s Donna Martin would’ve spun it.  She was always so perky and optimistic–only natural given that she shared a fictional birthday with Jesus.

Still, I really wish my kids were not coming of age in a world that claims to abhor schoolyard and workplace bullying, but puts bullies on pedestals (or first in the polls).  I hope that they can survive childhood, and adulthood, intact.  That the pieces of them that may be consumed by life’s inevitable indignities and injustices, will grow back like the limbs of a sea star.  

And I hope that they will not not be the biters. That they will be good friends and lovers and citizens of the human race.

Next Christmas, I’m going to save myself the gingerbread existential crisis–we’re going with houses instead of men.

 

Winning and Losing.

I lost this week. I hate losing. And I had a long drive home to stew about it.
Upon my untriumphant return home I was greeted with the following:

Peanut (7): Did you do your best to convince the judge? Were you nice? Did you practice? If you did those things you should feel good, mommy.

Sassy (6): You need dessert. I’ll have some with you if it will make you feel better.

Mo (3): (holding my face in his advent-calendar-chocolate-covered hands) I like winning, mama. You’re gonna win the next day.

My job is the kind where winning and losing take place daily.  Winning is important.  Clients want to win.  I want to win.  I take it personally when I don’t.  But contrast that with the conversations I have with the little people. I’m constantly telling them that winning is not what matters–that it’s the effort, the hard work, the way you play and how you pick yourself up, that matters.

So there I was, kneeling on the floor just inside my front door, car keys still in hand.  Three little ones in their pajamas, so happy that I made it home before bedtime, surrounding me.  Hearing the messages I’ve sent returned to me.   And turning my disappointment around.

Some moments make crystal clear that these little people are the best thing I ever did.

FullSizeRender (4)

The blurry face of winning. She practiced, worked hard, and was kind.  She got a new belt and a brownie sundae to celebrate the win.